Updated Aug. 1, 2023

What is COVID-19? How do you recognize it? And what do you do if you think you have it? Use this section to learn how to recognize COVID-19, what do if you think you are sick and how to care for yourself and others.

Coronaviruses, SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19

COVID-19 is the disease caused by the virus SARS-CoV-2. COVID-19 is short for Coronavirus Disease 2019. SARS-CoV-2 is a betacoronavirus, like MERS-CoV and SARS-CoV.

Coronaviruses are a family of viruses most often associated with the common cold in humans. Coronaviruses are found in many animal species, including cattle, cats and bats. Animal coronaviruses can sometimes infect people and then change, allowing them to spread from person to person, which occurred in the case of the SARS virus in 2002-2003 and with the MERS virus in 2012.


People with COVID-19 have had a wide range of symptoms reported–ranging from mild symptoms to severe illness. Symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure to the virus. People with these symptoms or combinations of symptoms may have COVID-19:

  • Fever or chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headache
  • New loss of taste or smell
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea

How do COVID-19 symptoms compare to other illnesses like the common cold or flu (influenza)? See the symptom comparison page.

Exposure, Diagnosis and Testing

If you are concerned that you have COVID-19, visit the Exposure and Diagnosis page to learn more about next steps to take. Visit the Testing Page for testing information and locations.

Content adapted from CDC materials.